There are many different websites that help find cheap flights, there are also many different articles everywhere about these websites, so I’m not going into too much detail on all the different ones. What I will be detailing though is how to take advantage of budget airlines, and the exact tactics I use to find and take advantage of the cheapest flights around.
Finding specific flights
Google flights is my highest suggestion. It was originally Matrix Airfare Search but was bought out by Google. It still works the same and, in my opinion, Google flights is more helpful. The best thing about it is that it tells you what dates nearby are cheaper. For example, searching from Miami to New York round trip March 10 to 14th, it says I can save $17 by flying the day before instead, comparing many different airlines. For whatever reason Southwest is never included in these searches.
Skyscanner is another website that is similar to Google flights, worth checking more than one if you’re going to spend $100 on a ticket, and Skiplagged is a unique one that will find connection flights that end up cheaper than direct ones. One flight I always notice, looking to get from the USA to Europe, is that connecting through Portugal to say France or Germany is always cheaper than flying directly to Portugal. This concept is what Skiplagged works off of.
For a massive amount of information on these websites and other tricks for buying the tickets visit Reddit’s airfare page. Most of the other tips are rather vague, but it’s simply because you can’t really predict prices.
Generally though, Google flights is the best. If you’re booking internationally than you should do a bit more research though as those get expensive, specifically check Norwegian and Aeroflot flights if you are going to Europe from somewhere else.
Getting the cheapest ticket
The cheapest ticket may not be a nearby airport, but from connecting flights and buses to get to another. Whether you are flying domestic or international, or even which country you are in, dramatically changes what is cheapest. Check out my piece on cheap land transport to fill in the gaps of possible buses, trains etc.
Flights in USA are very different between international and domestic because the country is so big, and so far away from most countries, so I’ve split them up here in terms of advice.
Generally, I never look for a flight more than a month before because I usually don’t plan that far ahead. It also seems, compared to when I have, that a month ahead is fine.
Use Google Flights and put in rough dates for when you are going. I am usually flexible within about a week both ways, this allows me to pick whichever day of the week is cheapest — usually the middle — as well as part of the month. If you can’t be flexible by at least a couple days, you aren’t going to find this Google Flights information very helpful.
For example, look at the photo. It says that changing to only one day before saves $58. Doing so, it drops to $168. Yay.
If you are in Florida and the cheapest ticket to get to, say, California is in New York, than you would check for prices of other planes, buses, trains, etc, to get to New York and see if the money you save from the cheaper plane ticket in New York compensates for the travel cost to get there.
The combination of time frame, adjusting by a day or a week, and not being afraid to spend more travel time rather than money to get somewhere the cheapest, is the best I can give for getting a cheap flight domestically.
If you are in the USA going international, I can almost guarantee you, besides possibly going to Asia, that flying out of New York will be the cheapest. I always take a connecting flight to JFK to then fly out of the country and it always ends up cheaper.
I got from Providence RI, USA to Rome, Italy in 36 hours. I took a bus to New York City, a shuttle to the JFK airport, and a plane that first connected in Moscow, with a 5-hour layover, then a plane over to Rome. Between connections, bus tickets and shuttles I spent only $400 or so, and this was in peak time in summer.
This was the cheapest way between planes, trains, boats and buses to get from Providence to Rome in the time frame I had. I added and subtracted a couple days from the trip to make a cheaper flight as well.
Summer will always be more expensive for international flights because everyone is going on vacation. Winter the cheapest. This just passed winter I had a ticket on Norwegian airlines from Newburgh, New York to Dublin, Ireland and back for $214, from the middle of December to middle of January.
The airport you fly into internationally also greatly affects the price and should be considered. Flying into Cork, Ireland is much cheaper than Dublin, flying into Paris can be cheaper than a lot of other places, Copenhagen is one of the cheapest airports to fly out of too.
If it isn’t a massive hindrance, look to fly into whatever airport is cheapest and check buses and whatnot to see how expensive it is to get to your actual destination. If anything, you get to see more places you weren’t expecting to.
Essentially, even for domestic flights, be aware of what airports fly the cheapest to where and don’t be afraid to have connections, just make sure to have enough time between them.
Europe is very similar to the USA in terms of the advice I gave above. The biggest difference is budget airlines which I will talk about farther down. Here I will just mention a couple small things I’ve noticed specifically about Europe.
Going between countries within Europe is almost always dirt cheap and easy with Google Flights or Skyscanner. Budget airlines like Ryanair are the best, and always look for the cheapest flight, even if its leaving from a couple cities away buses are cheap and you’ll almost always save, plus you get to see places you didn’t expect to.
Flying out of Europe, I suggest Norwegian if you are going west, and Aeroflot if you are going east. Norwegian has started to make stops in smaller cities intercontinentally which allow them to have cheaper plane prices.
I flew Norwegian from Providence, RI, USA to Cork, Ireland for about $200. One-way, but it was the cheapest for a week and only a week from Christmas. Going west I suggest Aeroflot as I flew from New York to Rome and back for $400, as I mentioned above, with a layover in Moscow. $400 to cross almost half the planet is pretty great. Plus, the ticket came with pretty good meals, no extra charge.
Getting even cheaper with budget airlines
There’s so much information I can give on budget airlines I wanted to put it all in this section, even though much of this would belong in the above paragraphs. This differs again from the USA to Europe.
The USA has very few budget airlines compared to Europe, one in particular though is Frontier. They would pop up in Google Flights but I want to give specific tips about them.
They are very cheap. So cheap, a ticket to get from Providence, RI to Miami, Florida in the middle of January was $25. But, it was an extra $30 to have a carry-on bag, a small handbag type. Even the $60 it ended up being was cheaper by $30 to any other flight though, so it was worth it. If you need to simply get from one place to another, you’re golden.
The $30 extra to the ticket specified the size of the bag I could bring, and it was essentially a handbag. I travel with a 50L backpack and was coming home with it full. Bought the ticket online, had the boarding pass on my phone, handed it to be scanned, and walked right on. Not even a glance at my pack. I did purposely get on the plane as quick as I could so that there was space for my bag, which I’ll mention again with Norwegian.
My point being, don’t buy the even more expensive ticket for an actually large carry-on, at least in winter.
Europe has many budget airlines, the ones I know very well is Norwegian and Ryanair.
As I mentioned above, Norwegian is great for going between Europe and the USA. The only issue at face-value is their carry-on baggage policy. If I’m travelling Norwegian it’s because I will be travelling for awhile, and so my 50L pack is never under their weight limit of 10kg nor within their size expectations.
I have never paid extra because of it.
They will always ask to weigh your pack, even if you’re hiding it on your back. After they do, they say I have to check it because of its weight. All I’ve ever done is sincerely say that it’s all I have, I’m off travelling, if anything ever happened to my bag I’d lose everything, and my computer and camera are in there.
“Alright, go.” Just be nice, smile, be honest, they’ll let you go. The only time I didn’t get checked was flying out of Copenhagen, and that’s because you can check-in online only if you are flying out of Scandinavia.
Since you now have a bigger bag than normal on this flight, you damn well better get on the flight as early as you can to be able to shove that pack in an overhead compartment. If you have a small bag than great. If you have around 50L, it won’t fit under the seat in front of you and flight attendants will tell you to put it somewhere.
As long as you get on early, you’ll be able to find space to put your bag up and have no worries.
Also, it is worth looking at Norwegian’s website specifically for flights as they show, similar to Google Flights, flight prices on a calendar and you can find cheaper ones there you wouldn’t on Google Flights.
The reason I say Ryanair is great for international within Europe as they have so many different flights and the only other relatively cheap flights I’ve seen is EasyJet in southern Europe. This just past winter I flew Ryanair four times within one month. Each flight was around $15 or so and right around Christmas and new years going back and forth from Ireland to England.
Ryanair is similar to Norwegian in their baggage policy, but since they don’t have actual check-ins, they charge an extra $50 to check-in at the airport and repeatedly email you so, there’s no one to judge the weight of your backpack.
Again flying with my 50L, not one person ever appeared to consider my pack. But, also the same, you need to get on that flight first to have space for your bag before they start checking bags from lack of space.
As a final little tip with Ryanair, they are frequently late, and almost never actually board until the boarding pass says they are closing the doors, so don’t worry.